Robert Novak
ADVISER CLINTON LOS ANGELES -- Even after his official handoff of the Democratic Party's reins to Vice President Al Gore in Monroe, Mich., last Tuesday, President Clinton was trying to shape his successor's acceptance speech. Clinton has not been in direct contact with Gore on political questions for some time. But after leaving Los Angeles following his Monday night speech, he was on the telephone to Gore lieutenants in early morning hours with suggestions for the presidential nominee. A footnote: Prior to the selection of Sen. Joe Lieberman for vice president, Clinton told Gore aides that maverick Sen. Bob Kerrey of Nebraska would be a bold choice for running mate. One of the president's toughest Democratic critics, Kerrey this past week publicly urged Clinton to keep quiet and leave the center stage to Gore. FEAR OF NADER Real concern that Ralph Nader's Green Party candidacy may defeat Al Gore in the Pacific Northwest, the Upper Midwest and perhaps even California produced concerted attacks on the consumer advocate during the Democratic convention. "Anyone who votes for Ralph Nader is voting for (Supreme Court Justices Antonin) Scalia and (Clarence) Thomas," Democratic activist James Carville told one meeting. Rep. Barney Frank of Massachusetts contended Nader's rhetoric is "not honest" and that he could reverse abortion and civil rights policies by helping to elect George W. Bush. Democratic General Chairman Ed Rendell has told reporters that he fears the Bush campaign will start funding Nader's money-starved operation. HOFFA FOR GORE? The Teamsters union may abandon its tentative decision to remain neutral in the presidential election and instead on Labor Day endorse the Democratic ticket because of Sen. Joseph Lieberman's selection as vice president. The union's first choice for Al Gore's running mate was Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa. But Teamster officials like Lieberman. Because he "has kept an open door" for them, Teamsters forgive his support of the Chinese trade treaty. Teamsters President James Hoffa, the only major labor leader uncommitted in the presidential election, was named an at-large delegate to the Democratic convention. But the Democrats did not give him the special attention he received at the Republican convention, where GOP National Chairman Jim Nicholson hosted a reception honoring Hoffa. WHERE IS HILLARY? Grumbling could be heard from a few New York delegates to the Democratic convention about the absence of their Senate candidate: Hillary Rodham Clinton. Mrs. Clinton was engaged in first lady duties immediately preceding the convention rather than in bonding with the New York delegation (though she found time to raise money for her Senate race). She left Los Angeles with her husband after their Monday night convention speeches, a departure desired by the Gore campaign. A footnote: Housing Secretary Andrew Cuomo was an active presence in Los Angeles as he prepared a run for governor of New York in 2002. But a negative attitude toward him by many of the state's delegates suggests a lot of work to do. TALKING TOO LONG The delay in Monday's opening session that pushed Bill Clinton's farewell address out of prime time was the principal responsibility of one of the president's fellow Arkansans: Sen. Blanche Lincoln, at age 39 the Senate's youngest member. A convention organizer claimed the schedule was timed "down to the minute" to finish most of Clinton's speech before 11 p.m. EST. That timetable slipped by nearly an hour because many speakers stretched out their speeches (including Hillary Rodham Clinton), and applause went longer than expected. But only Lincoln, after completing her prepared remarks, launched a long ad lib that had convention managers gnashing their teeth. A footnote: Prominent Democrats privately say there is no more need for four-day conventions. Conventions now do not make decisions on candidates, the platform, delegate credentials or party rules, and the vast majority of speeches are ignored by all television networks except C-SPAN. Consequently, these critics maintain, conventions could be shrunk to three or even two days.

Robert Novak

Robert Novak (1931-2009) was a syndicated columnist and editor of the Evans-Novak Political Report.
 

 
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